General Question

Zuma's avatar

If you accidentally killed someone, how severely should you be punished?

Asked by Zuma (5908points) April 26th, 2009

Without getting too specific, let’s just say that you were doing something that millions of people do everyday, most of the time without mishap, but because you weren’t really thinking, or because you zoned out for a second, you caused an accident. The accident could just as easily have been a near miss or resulted in your own death. Unfortunately, as bad luck would have it, the other person died and the professionals who analyse these things, determined it was your fault.

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15 Answers

AstroChuck's avatar

That depends on the circumstances surrounding the accident. Drunk drivers don’t intentitionally kill, but they often do. Obviously, that’s not what you are talking about but you’ll need to be a little more specific if you’re expecting decent responses.

Bluefreedom's avatar

Involuntary manslaughter – sometimes called criminally negligent homicide in the United States, gross negligence manslaughter in England and Wales or culpable homicide in Scotland, occurs where there’s no intention to kill or cause serious injury, but death is due to recklessness or criminal negligence.

If we’re going by the definition above and facts and evidence aren’t in dispute over the incident you were involved in, I would venture to say that your punishment should match what the legal statutes in your state say should be handed down for the crime you’ve committed.

Now, looking into this deeper and more realistically maybe, considerations should probably be taken into account, as @AstroChuck has already mentioned, about any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that play a role.

As far as punishments themselves, you would also have to consider if the judge himself is going to decide the penalty, if there was a jury trial involved and jurors helped to decide penalties, or if plea bargains are made between prosecutors and defense attorneys and that contributed to the leniency of a punishment.

I’m far from a legal expert or attorney but these are just my thoughts and opinions regarding all of it.

Zuma's avatar

The question is how severely should YOU be punished. I am trying to get people to use the Golden Rule in considering this question.

I don’t want to specify any particular type of accident because it tends to key in all sorts of emotional baggage that people have about particular types of accidents.

Judging from discussions I’ve been having lately, it doesn’t seem to matter much what the particulars are when it comes to taking a life. People seem to have little interest in mitigating circumstances and even less sympathy for the person who is at fault, except as someone they want to punish.

Bluefreedom's avatar

If it is myself that was ever responsible for the taking of a human life by accident, I would expect to be punished in accordance with the way the law dictates that I am to be punished and to receive the jail or prison time that is commensurate with what I had done wrong. I would also like all the factors to be taken into consideration (that apply, if any) that I listed in my first answer.

I wouldn’t be looking for preferential treatment but just fairness, if there was any to be had, as far as what the criminal justice system could afford me. I would also be extremely remorseful for what I had done and I would expect that my crime would haunt me for the rest of my life.

asmonet's avatar

I was going to post what Blue did. GA by the way.
But as for how severely I think they should be punished? It depends on what happened and how their actions might have changed things.

Harp's avatar

I know that certain actions make me a greater danger to the public. I may choose to do them anyway because, while I don’t want to kill anyone, I may judge that the odds of this happening are so low that the benefits to me outweigh the risk.

I don’t think incarceration is an appropriate punishment in cases like this. It wouldn’t act as a deterrent since if people seriously thought that their actions would kill someone, they wouldn’t be doing it anyway for that reason alone. The offender would also typically not be someone with criminal intent, just someone with poor judgement. Removing them from socitey is not called for.

The risk associated with some actions, like driving drunk, are so great and well-known that they constitute a genuine disregard for the safety of others. For something like this, I’d relinquish my license and my vehicle permanently, and do community service out the wazoo.

Other actions, like snacking or looking at written directions while driving, also increase risk to others, but seem to me to be a less flagrant flaunting of common sense. I’d suspend my license for 3 years (though frankly, I don’t know if I could ever drive again anyway) and do community service as well.

Triiiple's avatar

If i was cleaning my gun and my friend was around and it happened to go off in his face, should i be tried for murder?

I dont think so, id probably feel horrible but what could i do?

Only situation i could think of with no emotions going through it.

MissAusten's avatar

There are two kinds of accidents. Accidents that no one can foresee or prevent, completely out of the control of anyone involved, and accidents that happen because someone is doing something (possibly) stupid, reckless, or without thinking of the possible outcomes. In the first case, I’d still feel terrible and probably never really get over it but not expect to be punished in any legal sense. In the second case, I’d still have all the guilt and remorse and would feel that some sort of legal consequences would be deserved.

The best way I can think to explain it, is what I tell my kids when they make some kind of mess or break something. If you spill your milk because you’re carrying it to the table and trip over your own feet, that’s an understandable accident. If you spill your milk because you’re carrying it to the table while spinning around like a ninja and trying to kick your brother, that’s not an acceptable accident. In both cases you have to help clean up the mess, but in the second case you also lose dessert.

wundayatta's avatar

I like @MissAusten‘s categorization of accidents. I might make a few more categories in order of severity, but that’s too much thinking for this exercise. I like @Harp‘s sense of proportion in terms of matching the punishment to the magnitude of the negligence.

In terms of applying the golden rule for this exercise, I am having trouble. That trouble is imagining me doing something like getting totally sloshed and driving, or hitting someone with a sucker punch and killing them, or failing to take my baby to the doctor after my spouse beat the baby severely, or if a security guard gets trampled by the hordes being let into a Walmart for a Black Friday sale, or if prison guards suppress a prisoner by sitting on his chest with so much weight and for so long, that he asphyxiates because he is unable to breathe.

These are all real examples. I just wouldn’t do any of these things, so I believe. And how would you prosecute Walmart management for that, anyway? Would it be the store management or national management, or the promotional manager? Who actually committed the negligent homicide?

At the very least these people should have to provide some community service. But how is that different than being in a prison breaking up rocks? To get people to do work they don’t want to do requires some serious motivation—perhaps the threat of prison? Prison might actually serve as a deterrent when it is the alternative to hard work.

I think that’s it. Serious community service—maybe three to five years, with prison as the alternative if one’s work is not good enough. I’d set the standard for good enough fairly low. Or perhaps even customize it for the person. I wouldn’t want someone who was learning disabled helping out reading court documents or something like that.

Yeah. I like that. There is some recompense for society as a whole. Perhaps some of the value of the work could be given back to the immediate relatives (distributed per stirpes) of the deceased. Or the person’s wages could be garnished as well, again with the threat of prison if they refused to work.

benjaminlevi's avatar

Well did you inform the police yet?

Zuma's avatar

The point is that people have lapses in judgement all the time, but most of the time what goes wrong can be fixed with an apology or insurance.

For the most part, mishaps are the last thing we intend. Even when we are undertaking something that we know to be risky, our attention is on achieving a successful outcome, not on pondering the worst possible thing that could go wrong.

Most of the time we are reasonable and prudent. Nonetheless, there are still things we do every day that slightly increase the risks we expose ourselves and others to. For the most part, we rely on the law to paint a bright line around the risks we have collectively decided are too dangerous to be left to chance. So, when people drive while drunk, or speed through construction zones, we punish them even when they don’t hurt anybody, and even more severely when they do.

However, there are lots of risks that aren’t so well marked. In some cases, like texting while driving (which is only illegal in some states), everyone seems to instinctively regard the risk as unacceptably high, even though the actual probability of a fatal mishap is on the order of 1 in 14 million, or about the same as winning the state lottery. On the other hand, driving faster than 55 MPH is roughly three times more dangerous, yet people widely ignored the 55 MPH speed limit when it was in effect.

As a society, we are growing older; and as we do so, we are growing more risk adverse. One of the consequences of this trend is that we are becoming more punitive toward people we perceive as endangering others by putting them at increased risk.

The problem is, we are not using science to determine what is risky and then use public policy to draw a bright line around the problem. Instead, we wait until there is a mishap; and then, in 20/20 hindsight, we determine fault; and then in the heat of emotion, we rain down the full force and fury of our indignation on the person who was at fault.

In the example of the boy spinning like a ninja, this is something the boy knows is risky but not forbidden. So, we only punish him when he spills his milk. Only, in the real world, the punishment is not “lost desert”; we completely destroy the person’s life, and him along with it. Suppose, your son was spinning like a ninja but, by some freak accident, managed to kill his brother. What then, would you turn him over to the state to be tried for manslaughter because of his foolishness?

Just a few days ago you were saying that if you take a life, you should have to pay. Equal misery for equal misery.

I agree with you, if people are not deterred by putting their own life at risk, how can you expect them to be deterred by a long prison sentence. In the conversations I’ve been having lately (mostly trying to talk down people recommending more severe punishments for incidents of this kind) people seem to have no sympathy and indeed quite a bit of vengeful bile toward “stupid people” who endanger others with lapses of judgement that are ordinarily benign, except in those few instances where someone gets hurt or killed.

The victim’s family may wish to see you tried for murder. In the example you mentioned, there is no real fault. He could have been sitting in the next room when the shot went off; it was only chance that he was close by. It is very difficult for people to accept that “shit happens.” If there was any foreseeable risk at all, no matter how slight that you could have avoided, very likely you would be charged with manslaughter, and you would be facing prison.

wundayatta's avatar

@MontyZuma: well, I still think you should have to pay, but I think misery is not the only option, and the option I described is more likely to work to make people feel like all is not lost because of the death. It may also achieve the misery for misery trade.

dangel's avatar

Accidents happen every day. One day I was driving on a rain soaked stretch of road in front of a race track. I was trying to watch everyone leaving the track, but a drunk guy darted right in front of me and I hit him. Thank the Lord he did not die, but he could have easily. Although it would have been his fault, I would have had to live with the regret of accidentally killing someone. Sometimes regret alone is more than enough punishment. Drinking and Driving is very different…. and I think all drunk drivers should be charged with attempted homicide. Every time someone gets in a car under the influence, there is a chance they might kill someone. With the way our society has educated us, there is no excuse. I have know too many people who are not here due to drunk driving, either from hitting someone, or hitting a tree.

Zuma's avatar

@dangel What if you had had a detectable level of alcohol in your blood stream but were not drunk?

username12's avatar

drunk is drunk drinkin is drinkin u still are drunk @Zuma

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